Gene of generosity

Roy Ramos helps dish up pumpkin filling as his mother, Elisa,

For the second consecutive year, Roy Ramos
– a man who lives across the street from Wheeler Manor – fed
roughly 120 residents and South County Housing staff a holiday
lunch with an ethnic twist on the Thursday before Thanksgiving at
the Gilroy retirement home for seniors 62 and older.
Marguerite Lee, a resident of Wheeler Manor on Sixth and Carmel Street in Gilroy, was out for a stroll Friday with her small dog.

At 91-years-old, the sociable senior is affable and cheerfully engaging. She said her four-legged companion – a fluffy Shih Tzu resembling an Ewok from “Star Wars” – is the manor’s official mascot.

Hence, the name “Wheeler.”

Lee was one of roughly 120 residents and South County Housing staff who enjoyed a complimentary holiday lunch with an ethnic twist on the Thursday before Thanksgiving at the Gilroy retirement home for seniors 62 and older.

For the second consecutive year, Roy Ramos –a man who lives across the street from Wheeler – has facilitated the lunch, which included making almost 200 tamales from scratch.

Ramos estimates the bountiful repast, a joint effort that included his mother and SCC employees, cost close to $800.

“I think it’s just the nicest thing,” said Lee, blinking from behind a pair of small glasses as she gushed about Ramos and his mother.

She doled out accolade to their generosity, which stems from a longtime legacy of giving in Gilroy.

“I let everybody know this is in memory of my father, and what he used to do for the community,” said Ramos.

Ramos’ family migrated from Texas to California in early 1960, pursuing the prospect of new opportunities and fresh beginnings.

Their first house in California had an all-dirt floor, and no shower.

After attending school in Sacramento for training in welding and mechanics, Ramos’ father saved enough money to purchase a home on Carmel Street in 1967. At that time, it was directly across from what was Wheeler Hospital.

Ramos’ father habitually visited migrant work camps, poorer areas of town and farms where laborers’ families were sharing one or two houses on-site. He’d distribute food and turkey dinners when holidays rolled around.

“He’d even take migrant workers to San Francisco and help them get their citizenship,” Ramos said.

After growing up and raising kids in that same childhood home on Carmel Street – a cozy residential area defined by early 19th century stucco homes and colorful trees arching overhead, Ramos champions the questionably archaic perseverance of neighborly togetherness.

“When we moved to that location back in the 1960s, it was very traditional for my parents and neighbors to exchange food,” he remembered.

Ramos said having Wheeler Manor directly across the street is an ideal ingredient for bringing the entire block together at least once a year.

“Like we used to,” he said. “The season should be more about getting to know your neighbors, and giving more into something very simple, and basic.”

This was the second year Ramos and his mother, Elisa, have whipped up a Thanksgiving feast for Wheeler residents – a tradition Ramos hopes will become cemented in custom. In addition to a free meal, Home Depot, Ramos’ employer, also donated a small plant to every one of the 109 apartments in the Wheeler building.

What really gets people licking their lips, however, is the infusion of Hispanic food staples alongside holiday mainstays such as turkey and stuffing.

Ramos said even though his mother, 83, suffered a stroke two years ago, she’s still cooking up a storm.

“She recovered phenomenally, other than her speech,” he said, admiringly.

Elisa is known for her homemade tamales and Mexican pastries, particularly her pumpkin empanadas – flaky baked goods resembling turnovers.

“It was heavenly,” said 86-year-old Lois Davis, a navy wife since 1943. “Everything was so beautiful. It was quite a thing for them to do that.”

Lee said a number of her fellow residents don’t always emerge for large gatherings occurring at Wheeler.

“This was different, though,” she observed.

Property Manager Mary Lou Mazzone agreed, saying tenants came zipping down the elevators to R.S.V.P.

“As soon as we sent the invitation out, everybody came to the front desk and said, “Put me down!” she laughed. “And if they couldn’t come, they wanted it delivered.”

Mazzone explained Ramos and his mother worked – and worked – and worked to pump out an arsenal of tamales in their own kitchen, which were then transported across the street to Wheeler’s dining facilities.

“I’m Mexican,” said Raul Acosta, who has attended both of Ramos’ lunches. “I understand what a job it is to make tamales.”

A seven-year denizen of Wheeler Manor, Acosta is a charismatic individual with a snow-white beard, living in what he refers to as his “73rd year of existence.” The musically inclined “jack of all trades” occasionally simulates playing the trumpet in the air as he chats.

As a token of gratitude for their laborious efforts, Acosta sent Roy and Elisa a dozen roses, plus a bottle of Patron tequila.

Acosta remarked on Roy’s great generosity, and respect for the elderly.

“Some people living here are in a stranger state,” he said. “When you deal with senior citizens, sometimes they’re noncooperative. It can be a mind-expanding situation,” he laughed. “They’re cool.”

Ramos feels society has gotten away from listening to its elders.

“What we take for granted now, our seniors have gone through trials and tribulations our nation has gone through,” said Ramos.

Since his dad passed away in 1996, Ramos said several people whose lives were influenced by his father have approached him.

“I’ve had people tell me, ‘We have a home now, a career. We came here with nothing, and my kids are all in school. He inspired us, and gave us a push; showed us programs that have given the opportunity we have now.’ ”

Connecting with people, learning their stories, eating together, giving back – it’s what his dad was all about, said Ramos.

“His life ended; it stopped,” he said. “I just want to touch base with that, and carry it on, and hopefully my kids will carry it on. I want to leave the house to them, so they can keep doing it.”

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